“It’s all about the experience”

  15 July 2021  |    Interview

Gabbiano attracts the customers, the shops are there for the experience. That’s the fashion brand’s philosophy. “We need to seduce the customers,” says director Mansur Aksu.

Gabbiano is all about the experience. You notice this as soon as you enter the showroom in the head office. It’s the ultimate ‘man cave’ – it feels like you’re on a film set. Slap bang in the middle of the room is a coffee-corner-cum-bar, plus a wall built from sea containers stacked three high and cleverly arranged to form meeting rooms as well as part of the storeroom. Then there’s a motorcycle – café racer style – and other accents made from rough and raw materials. Surrounded by a décor dominated by steel, wood and stone, there are plenty of comfortable private seating areas. This is where Gabbiano’s new collections are presented to business partners and clients. The perfect place to interview the brand’s managing director Mansur Aksu.

When asked what the game changer was for his business, Mansur replies without hesitation.
“Two years ago, we radically reorganised our business model – that was the biggest game changer so far! Where we had previously produced and ordered in stock, we now operate a pre-ordering system. This switch was necessary to enable us to expand internationally. While we were at it, we automated all our business processes. Now all you need to do is push one button and it’s all done!”

No stock? How do the shops sell your clothes then?
“Shops will always be there, but their role is changing. Consumers visit shops for the experience. To get customers into the shops, we as a brand need to be in direct contact with the consumers. We need to tempt them to come and take a look at our partners, the shops. It may sound strange, but we do this via the online store. Online, we can present the full collection. That’s not possible in most brick-and-mortar shops. All our 250 retail partners have access to their own web-based B2B portal. This guarantees minimal risk for the retailer. One factor in this is keeping the inventory small. When a consumer visits the shop and an item is not in stock, the shop assistant accesses the portal. A few clicks later, we send it to the shop.”

Did your retail partners see the benefits of this model straightaway?
“No, not at all. When we launched our consumer website six years ago, there was a lot of pushback from the retailers. They viewed the online presence as direct competition. It wasn’t – it was part of our strategy to have closer ties to our consumers. Creating an experience strengthens not only the brand, but the retailers’ position, too.”

Gabbiano seems to be more like a lifestyle than a clothing brand.
“Exactly! And that’s what we want to project everywhere. In addition to the website, social media is very important for us. Facebook and Instagram are the ideal platforms for us to present the Gabbiano lifestyle. Influencers are becoming more and more important, too. Consumers can identify with them and we take that into account. It certainly doesn’t hurt that some celebrities are being spotted in Gabbiano jeans. And it’s been more than just a few!”

Has the fact that so many people have been working from home lately had an effect on the fashion industry?
“Our interactions with each other have become more informal and this is reflected in the clothes we wear. The suit-and-tie combination has been replaced by jeans worn with a shirt or sporty jacket. The businessman has become more modern and urban. You know, as early as 1998, Prince Claus set a good example by uttering the immortal words: ‘Dare to free yourself by going on the journey to the paradise of the open collar.’ In the end, we’re all followers of fashion, but the differences are significant. Each country has its own style and needs. Even a country as small as the Netherlands has huge style differences. In the north, consumers tend to be more conservative and stick to traditional models. In the south, people are hipper and follow more trends.”

You’re expanding to four new countries soon. What else have you got in the pipeline?
“The next step of our international expansion is pretty much ready to go. In addition, we’re going to open up new shops at several prime locations. These shops will be completely geared towards providing the Gabbiano Denim experience, giving us even more opportunities for connecting with our customers. There’s no bigger thrill than to come across someone wearing our clothes!”

If you asked me what defines Gabbiano’s success, I’d say ‘maximum dedication’.
“Yes, that’s right! We are always discussing the business and all the steps we are taking. At home, we’ve been banned from talking about the subject. If the business comes up, my son immediately puts a stop to it. He’s a really funny kid, so he always gets everyone laughing.”